With drums pounding and protesters chanting on the sidewalk at 13th and Arch, Fight for Philly activists took on the role of activist shareholders. The target was Comcast and the goal was to pressure them dump their affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing, pro-business, legislative mill that creates model legislation widely used in state houses across the country. I, along with dozens of activists, posed questions to Comcast representatives and a couple free market think-tankers.
Around 10AM, following a short explanation of the agenda, comments by shareholders was under way. The first few speakers provided the crowd with some entertainment by complaining about the “liberalness” of MSNBC, Rachel Maddow – the main villain – Ed Schultz, and Chris Matthews, but after that the onslaught of torment began. Fight for Philly activists grilled Comcast about their tax dodging efforts in Pennsylvania by exploiting the Delaware Loophole To the surprise of many, several Comcast employees from Chicago made it to the meeting. Their comments gave insight into how the corporation acts behind the curtains and inside the management offices.
By the end of the meeting, I lost the count of how many times “Comcast,” “ALEC,” and “Delaware Loophole” were uttered. Fight for Philly activists were able to get the executives to consider dumping ALEC. However, the disrespect of shareholder opinion was clear through the executives’ facial expressions and responses. After asking about the Delaware Loophole a good 5 or 6 times, Comcast executives finally cracked. Their responses went from “we don’t do this” to “well, we do have 250 subsidiaries in Delaware, but the amount of corporate taxes we could pay elsewhere would be a lot better so you should be thankful that our headquarters is in Philadelphia (emphasis added).” The flogging ended with Fight for Philly organizer Anne Gemmell asking the executives “Do you want to be worse than Wal-Mart?” given that Wal-Mart dumped ALEC that very same morning.
Some of the most startling comments came from the Comcast employees from Chicago. Their comments provided insight into Comcast’s stellar employee/employer relations. The working conditions for some employees means working well over 40 hours a week, being on call during the middle of the night, sacrificing time with their family and fearing for their livelihood because of some of the neighborhoods in Chicago. A few of the complaints included verbal harassment, union busting and sexual harassment.
A younger employee told a tale about how the Human Resources office was verbally harassing employees by saying workers’ jobs were dispensable, comparing them to “cockroaches.” An older middle-aged employee explained how the company was spreading disinformation and wasting time and resources about unions after the employees were granted permission to vote for unionization. With the vote failing, the company was successful in spreading disinformation, so the employees were granted a second opportunity to vote. The Chicago field office wasted more time and more resources to successfully rig the election. Perhaps the most egregious complaint was about a cover-up. A third employee described a sexual harassment cover-up between an employee and upper level manager. The manager eventually was able to have the Human Resources office sweep the charges under the rug.
To listen to the comments from the shareholders, please click on the links below. Please note that the room was large, so grab your headphones, turn up the volume and listen to the meeting.
- The first 20 minutes of the question and answer session
- The final 40 minutes of the question and answer session
- The “mic check” and march out of the convention center
Sean Kitchen | Raging Chicken Press Social Media Organizer, Kutztown University student, co-founder of Occupy Kutztown